Scientists have long thought that the human palate is only able to register a small number of primary tastes. These include salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami, which was added to the list seven years ago. Since then, there’s been no change.
But, a recent study from the Department of Food Science and Technology at Oregon State University indicates that a sixth —a “starchy” flavor associated with carbohydrate-rich foods like bread, pasta, and rice—can be separately identified by our tongues.
“Every culture has a major source of complex carbohydrate. The idea that we can’t taste what we’re eating doesn’t make sense,” says lead researcher Juyun Lim.
Lim and her team conducted a series of taste tests on 22 subjects, in which they were asked to taste a number of different solutions made up of varying levels of carbohydrates. The subjects were then asked to describe and rate the taste of each solution. “They called the taste ‘starchy,’” says Lim, “Asians would say it was ‘rice-like’, while Caucasians described it as ‘bread-like’ or ‘pasta-like’. It’s like eating flour.”
The subjects were still able to identify this “starchy” flavor after sampling a special compound that blocked the receptors on their tongues that pick up sweet tastes. These findings showed that humans can still recognize the presence of carbohydrates before they have been broken down into sugar molecules, as previous research has suggested.
“I believe that’s why people prefer complex carbs,” says Lim. “Sugar tastes great in the short term, but if you’re offered chocolate and bread, you might eat a small amount of the chocolate, but you’d choose the bread in larger amounts, or as a daily staple.”
If you’re craving carbs now, since it’s scientifically proven to be natural, you’ll definitely want to try these better-for-you options. No willpower? We’ve got expert-approved tips to help you curb the cravings.